Gender Differences in Children's Writing

Wong I-Ling

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 1998


    This thesis investigates children's writing for gender differences and attempts to show how gender ideology is reflected and reproduced in the children's texts. This is based on the social semiotic view of language which recognises that language can have multiple meanings and when in use, language can construct or reproduce social beings and the society (Threadgold, 1986; mentioned in Kamler, 1993:130). From this view of language, children's writing can never be perceived as innocent but must be seen as a learned social practice (Gilbert, 1989). Children are therefore social beings whose use of language contributes to the establishment and maintenance of their gender identities. Hence, in making reading and writing decisions, they are already learning the gender appropriate behaviours sanctioned by their culture (Swann, 1992:135).

    This study uses Halliday's functional grammar (1985), specifically his Transitivity and Thematic analysis, and the related genre work, especially that on narrative, proposed by Martin (1984), as the theoretical framework to analyse six Primary Three children's written texts. The analysis is carried out at two levels, that of role and transitivity selection and that of generic realization. The findings show that majority of the children portray their characters in stereotypical roles. Their stereotypical characterisations, which reflect the influence of gender ideology, are made more evident by comparing the effectality of the characters using an adapted version of Hasan's cline of dynamism (1985:46). Gender differences also occur within the narrative genre where we see the girls and boys developing elements of the schematic structure differently. Within each element of the narrative structure, gender differences emerge in their selections of the various transitivity types to represent their experiences. These differences reveal the gendered notions of the boys as active participants of the world and the girls as the observant participants. The thesis ends by suggesting implications for classroom practice and further research.